The rebbe whose house in Monsey was the scene of one of the worst anti-Semitic attacks in years delivered the opening blessing at Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s annual address last Wednesday.
Rav Chaim Leibish Rottenberg, the Kossoner Rebbe of Forshay Road, said, “We ask you, Merciful Father, bless our governor who has committed himself to protect our way of life and broaden security. Guide him in eradicating hate at its source and across all platforms, and help him promote and instill the values of tolerance and appreciation among all our neighborhoods and communities, who may look different, talk in a different language or raise and educate their children according to their unique ancestral traditions.”
The blessing followed a visit by Cuomo to his home, which was the scene of a vicious stabbing attack that injured five and left one victim in a coma. Yehosef ben Perel Neuman is fighting for his life.
The attacker, Grafton Thomas of Orange County, pleaded not guilty to federal hate crime charges on Monday. The judge hinted at a possible death penalty, telling him he may need attorneys specializing in capital punishment depending on the state of Neuman, the stabbing victim.
Thomas, 37, was charged with five counts each of attempting to kill victims based on their religion and obstructing the free exercise of religious beliefs by attempting to kill with a dangerous weapon. He also faces state attempted murder charges.
“We now allege that he did this with the intention of targeting his victims because of their religion,” Manhattan US Attorney Geoffrey Berman said in a news release.
Michael Sussman, who represents Thomas, said he’ll consider asking the judge to conclude his client is psychologically unfit for trial. He said a defense expert will visit Thomas a third and final time Friday and then prepare a report.
Assistant US Attorney Michael Krouse, who is prosecuting the case, objected, saying that his office would like to have Thomas evaluated by a psychology professional of their own choosing if Sussman pursues a mental disability defense.
Authorities say Thomas kept handwritten journals with anti-Semitic references and had used his phone to look up information on Hitler. Krouse said journals and writings were seized from two residences, and two machetes and two knives were found in separate vehicles in the probe.
Meanwhile, Cuomo said that he directed up to $340,000 to install license plate readers on roads in and around Monsey, as well as $340,000 to put in license plate readers for the village of New Square.
Police arrested Thomas within two hours of the attack, and authorities have credited the diligence of Yosef Elya Glick, who repelled him and then ran outside to get the license plate number, with helping catch him.
“Mayor Spitzer [of New Square] said he wanted more license plate readers,” Cuomo said. “I said, ‘Can’t we just get 100 Joseph Glucks on all the corners?’ He said, ‘No, we need an electronic system.’”
This technology automatically captures all license plate numbers that come into view, along with the location, date and time. The data, which includes photographs of the vehicle, is then uploaded to a central server and relayed to police agencies across a wide area.
Cuomo plans to update the New York State Police’s network of license plate readers. The upgrades, he said, will reduce the time it takes authorities to locate missing people, crime suspects and people who have a warrant seeking their arrest.
Aside for the cameras, Cuomo announced in his State of the State address that he would seek to pass a bundle of bills in the upcoming legislative session to combat the rising number of anti-Semitic incidents.
He proposed passage of the Hate Crime Anti-Terrorism Act, a first-in-the-nation domestic terrorism law that would label mass violence motivated by hate as terrorism. It would also make it a felony punishable by up to life in prison without parole.
Among other legislative ideas are that schools across New York add a curriculum that teaches civic values and the state’s history of diversity and religious freedom. Lesson plans would also be developed for the Museum of Jewish Heritage on the Holocaust to become a destination for schoolchildren across the state.
The attack, which comes amid a wave of anti-Semitic acts against Jews in Brooklyn and nearby areas, has prompted state and city officials to propose ways of protecting them.
Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that New York City will install 100 new security cameras in Boro Park, Williamsburg and Crown Heights, where residents have reported attacks ranging from someone pulling off a sheitel or shtreimel to more violent assaults.
“An attack on the Jewish community is an attack on all New Yorkers,” de Blasio, a Democrat, said in a statement. “These new security cameras will increase the NYPD’s visibility into these neighborhoods, and help our officers on the ground keep New Yorkers safe.”
The first 30 cameras will be installed by March, de Blasio said. The NYPD will then work with community members to identify the best locations for the remaining 70.
The announcement comes as some have questioned the mayor’s commitment to cracking down on hate crime. State Sen. Simcha Felder last week called on de Blasio to resign, though few have supported the call.
De Blasio has gone on an offensive to shore up his support in the Jewish community.
The NYPD has increased deployment in Jewish neighborhoods, and now have over 150 additional officers patrolling and building relationships in the community. The NYPD’s Intelligence Bureau has also launched a new unit to detect, prevent and investigate domestic terrorism and organized hate groups.
The NYPD also announced last week that it will begin including statistics from hate crimes in its weekly roundup of crime trends that are released to the public. Commissioner Dermot Shea said at a press conference Monday afternoon at One Police Plaza that the department will begin to track bias crimes in CompStat, its method of recording major index crimes such as murder, shootings and robbery.
The original CompStat was created in 1994. The data-driven approach has been credited as one of several factors in sharply reducing the city’s crime rate over the past 25 years by directing police to provide more patrols at high-risk areas.
CompStat currently releases data on seven categories of major crime. Bias crimes, which have until now been released every month, would add an eighth grouping to the weekly reports.
Police have also initiated a charm offensive to the city’s beleaguered Jewish community.
Cuomo was in Williamsburg on Wednesday two weeks ago, the day of the Siyum Hashas, and de Blasio visited Boro Park the next day to reassure the community. The top police official on the southern half of Brooklyn was in Boro Park last Sunday. Chief Brian Conroy, the commanding officer for the NYPD’s Brooklyn South Command, visited the Bobover and Satmar shuls to assure congregants of their security.
Police officers have been entering shuls across the neighborhood over Shabbos and telling people that their safety was of utmost concern. There have also been cruisers placed strategically outside shuls and halls with lights flashing. State troopers on horseback were seen patrolling on 13th and 15th Avenues in Boro Park.
Police officials say anti-Semitic crimes in New York City jumped 26 percent in 2019 compared with the year before. The announcement about the cameras comes a week after city officials announced they would implement “hate crime awareness programming” at middle and high schools in the same three Brooklyn neighborhoods that are getting the cameras.
Police Commissioner Dermot Shea said the cameras “will support our increased patrols and the targeted deployment of counterterrorism officers at key locations to ensure that everyone is safe.”
But it appears that some people are not waiting for that protection to kick in. A report in Rockland County’s Journal News said that the number of residents seeking to own handguns has risen sharply.
There have been 73 pistol permit applications filed with the county Clerk’s Office since the Chanukah attack. That compares to 51 applications the office received during the eight weeks prior to the stabbing, County Clerk Paul Piperato said.
According to Piperato, 68 of the new applications came from Ramapo residents, including 31 from Monsey. “It’s definitely because of this incident,” Piperato said. “In some way, shape or form, they want to defend themselves.”
Chief William Barbera of the Rockland County Sheriff’s Department says an application is the first step in a months-long process. Applicants are required to be fingerprinted and undergo a background check and firearms training before the paperwork is submitted to a licensing officer.
An academy run by veterans of the Israeli Defense Forces has been providing weapons training in Ramapo’s shuls since the machete attack. Its trainers have been advising Jewish residents to seek unrestricted pistol permits.
“The goal is to be able to carry at synagogue and not to just possess at home and take to the range,” said Yonatan Stern, the academy’s director.
In Flatbush, a meeting held by the Flatbush Jewish Community Coalition to help mosdos, yeshivos and shuls apply for federal and state security grants attracted over 150 groups. The meeting on Monday night packed Yeshiva Ahavas Torah’s hall.
The federal government gives grants of up to $100,000 that is available to all nonprofit institutions. Several lawmakers have called for it to be quadrupled to allow more groups to partake.
The state funds yeshivos and camps up to $50,000 for security training, cameras, door-hardening, improved lighting, state-of-the-art technology and other related security upgrades at each eligible facility. Organizations that operate more than one facility have the opportunity to submit up to three applications for a total request of up to $150,000.
In a sign of the times, Flatbush held a “Da’as Torah Response” shiur on Monday night to the rise of anti-Semitism. Speakers were Rav Moshe Tuvia Lieff, Rav Yisroel Reisman and Rav Elya Brudny.
Regrettably, even symbols of the fight against Jew-hate have become victims of the anti-Semitic violence.
During a press conference hosted by Rav Rottenberg after the State of the State address at his home in Monsey, passengers of a passing car yelled epithets at him. The incident was captured by the press corps, who were there for the conference.
“You all saw this,” said Rabbi Yisroel Kahan, executive director of the Oizrim Jewish Council, who was speaking to reporters at the time. “Sadly, this is how it happens. When you walk home from the synagogue Friday night, I have friends telling me, he got yelled at five times, he had a car revving the engine behind him.”